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MUMBAI (Reuters) - Bollywood is counting on emotions, star power and the festive spirit to rake in money at the box office this Diwali, capping an already good year for the Hindi film industry.
Shah Rukh Khan's "Jab Tak Hai Jaan" and Ajay Devgn's "Son of Sardaar", both big-ticket movies that open on the festival of lights next Tuesday, are expected to easily cross the billion-rupee benchmark.
Trade analysts say more than two billion rupees are riding on how the two films perform at the box office.
"'Jab Tak Hai Jaan' was Yash Chopra's last movie and there is a lot of curiosity around it. Ajay Devgn has his own fan base and ‘Son of Sardaar' will get a good opening as well," says trade analyst Amod Mehra. "There is a lot of emotion riding this Diwali."
Chopra, one of India's best known film-makers died in October. His family is going ahead with the film's release, saying the director would have wanted it that way.
"Jab Tak Hai Jaan", a love story featuring Khan, Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma, goes head to head with "Son of Sardaar", which stars Ajay Devgn and Sonakshi Sinha, and has the trappings of a masala Bollywood film.
The producers of both movies are locked in a legal battle over release locations but cinema owners say both films would attract holiday audiences. "Jab Tak Hai Jaan" is to be screened in 2,300 cinemas while "Son of Sardaar" is expected to open in 1,700 locations.
"Diwali is a time when business is usually good. Around 90-95 percent of our screen capacity will be screening these two movies," says Prakhar Joshi, head of programming for the PVR movie chain.
Ticket prices are expected to be rise by 10 to 15 percent next week, both for multiplexes and single-screen cinemas.
"This has been a great year for Bollywood, we've had six 100-crore rupees films, and if Diwali goes according to expectations, then it will be even better," says trade analyst Vajir Singh.
"This time, we have a romantic Shah Rukh Khan movie after a long time, so that will be a big draw, plus the fact that it's Yash Chopra's last film. ‘Son of Sardaar' is the perfect Diwali film, so that will also click with audiences," Singh said.
Traditionally, Diwali is Bollywood's most important movie-going season but 2012 has already seen a billion-rupee haul at the box office for six films.
Salman Khan led the march of blockbusters this year, with "Ek Tha Tiger" grossing more than two billion rupees worldwide.
Other films which tasted success include "Agneepath", "Barfi", "Housefull 2", "Rowdy Rathore" and "Bol Bachchan".
Last year's Diwali release, Khan's home production "Ra.One", also earned a billion rupees despite negative reviews.
But cinemas owners warn star appeal and swanky locations may bring in audiences initially but content remains key.
"When it comes to a Diwali release, yes it does take a good opening, but after that the content matters," says Joshi. "Audiences will come back only if the content matches the hype."
Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Tony Tharakan